Parashas Eikev 5780 – Hashem is in Control

Then you shall remember Hashem, your G-d; that it was He Who gave you strength to be successful” (8:18). The Targum translates the verse as follows: “You shall know that it is Hashem your G-d who advised you to purchase these holdings to accomplish His promise to your ancestors.” Usually, the Targum never departs from the literal translation of the words, why in this instance did he extrapolate the verbatim meaning of the words? The ‘Ben Ish Chai’, explains: This verse teaches us a fundamental concept, i.e. that everything a person has comes from Hashem Himself. One has not earned anything himself, either through his intelligence or handiwork. However, human’s nature is to attribute his success to his own hard work. Therefore, Hashem has given us three mitzvot that remind us that we are not even in control of our own physical well-being. Fulfilling these mitzvot help us recognize that Hashem is the One that provides as everything is His and reminds us that we are always on the receiving end. The first Mitzvah is the Shemittah, letting the land lie fallow every seventh year. The fulfillment of this Mitzva confesses that the Land is not ours, everything belongs to Hashem. Another such Mitzvah is Breached, reciting blessings before eating. By doing so, one acknowledges that everything belongs to Hashem. Hence, eating without a Bracha prior, amounts to stealing Hashem. A third such mitzvah is the prohibition of lending with interest to a fellow Jew, Ribbis. The money belongs to Hashem and we are only the appointed managers. The initials of these 3 mitzvot spell “BASAR” [flesh], referring to the verse [Tehilim 136:25] “He nourishes all flesh [BASAR].” and we are fully dependent on Hashem. Despite being a logical and agreeable by all lesson, the verse calls us a “stiff-necked nation”. The Sforno explains, to be “stiff necked” means that someone could logically prove to you that one is wrong, and it would still not entice us to change our ways. Why does this happen? If it is so illogical, then why do people so often live in ways that are different than what they believe to be true?! Rav Yisrael Salanter summed it up in a sentence: “The greatest distance in the world is between a person’s mind and their heart.” Someone can believe in one thing intellectually, but unless he finds a way to engrave it in his heart, to internalize it, to live it with every fiber of his being, it will have no effect on him. As the verse claims: “You should know today and return it into your hearts that Hashem is G-d, there is none other besides Him” (Devarim 4:39). One should breathe it, Hashem is in control of everything! The following story will illustrate that point: A plague began to strike a Shtetel and felled many without remorse. Townspeople turned to prayer, yet despite their tear-choked voices, there was no cure. A delegation was sent to Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz to seek his intercession in Heaven. “Travel to such-and-such town,” instructed Rabbi Baruch. “There, you will find a certain man. Beg him to declare, ‘Hashem shall remove this calamity from you.’ Do not leave before he complies.” As they set out on their journey, the delegation was impatient to meet with this undoubtedly righteous and pious person. When they arrived, however, the townspeople answered their inquiries about the man’s whereabouts with empty looks and shrugs. Despite doubts creeping in, they persisted in their search, until, finally, the delegation received its first lead. “Him?” replied a villager, affording the delegation an incredulous look. “That man’s a drunkard!” It would’ve made more sense to abandon their search right then and there rather than seek out this drunkard, but the delegation, fueled by faith, found his hovel and crowded around the door, as one of them gave it an apprehensive rap. The door was promptly opened by a puzzled-looking woman. “We are here at the behest of Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz,” said one of them slowly to the woman, whose confused look only deepened. “He has told us to speak with your husband, as he is the only one able to reverse a horrible decree.” The woman reacted as though slapped. “Is this your idea of mocking me? Come in, for perhaps you’d like to see him for yourself, lying there on the floor in a drunken stupor.” The woman paused to take a shaky breath before continuing. “It wasn’t always like this. My husband was a wealthy man, happy and full of vigor. But he found solace in the bottle and tore our life apart, together with all his financial ventures, chaining him to an injurious cycle—one he is unable to break out of till today. His daily routine goes as such: he wakes up, staggers around just to find more alcohol, and drinks himself asleep again. If you still wish to speak with my husband, wait for him to wake up and do so quickly—before he drinks again.” It was the delegation’s turn to act as though slapped; the man upon whom they had pinned their hopes was a bona fide drunkard. They decided to wait anyway, as they were there already. After a while, the drunkard began to stir and groped around for a bottle. He seemed unaware that a group of men surrounded him and were watching him carefully. “Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz has sent us,” said one of the men loudly. “He claims you are the only one who can bring an end to the plague that is currently decimating our people.” He regarded them with bloodshot eyes. “Can I have just one swig before I do so?” “No. We will not move from here and you will not receive your drink,” said the man firmly, shaking his head. “You will bless us, and we will be on our way.” Adopting a look of defeat, the drunkard said, “May Hashem in His infinite mercy nullifies this decree.” The delegation thanked the drunkard and immediately departed for Mezhibuz. A wonderful sight met their eyes upon their arrival home: unbelievably, the plague had died out. After asking some of the townspeople, it appeared that the decree had lifted exactly in those strange moments of the drunkard’s blessing. “He was an absolute drunkard,” reported the delegation when they later met with Rabbi Baruch, “who probably doesn’t know even a single letter of Scripture. He slurs when he talks. He is a disgrace to himself, his wife is completely clueless about his behavior, and the town considers him a stain on society. How did this man halt the plague?” Rabbi Baruch gave them a knowing smile. “Allow me to tell you a story. Oh, the things a single mitzvah can accomplish . . . “The drunkard you met was once, as you probably already know, a wealthy man, good-looking and quite well-regarded. He used it to his advantage, propelling himself up the social ladder and augmenting his business. Once, he paid a call to a non-Jewish widow, who had been the wife of a well-known noble. She was immediately impressed by her visitor. “‘Imagine us as a couple,” she said. “It could do you and your business wonders. Why live with that woman back home? Alongside me, consider yourself as a noble among nobles, and with your wisdom and my wealth, there is nothing we cannot achieve. Think about it.’ “‘I hear you,’ said the man, nodding. ‘But before I commit, could you please arrange a grand banquet and introduce me to the upper crust? Many nobles and princes will undoubtedly show up, and before that day is over, my name will be quite known. Our stature will grow.’ “The noblewoman was only too happy to comply. “A date was set, and the invitations were sent. The man steeled himself for perhaps the most important day of his life; he, too, fancied the woman and all the glory she represented. “The banquet took place at the noblewoman’s estate. Many important guests had indeed arrived, with whom the man was delighted to mingle and chat. Around the early morning, as the festivities were finally winding down, the two set out for a walk around the expansive lawns surrounding her estate. Their stroll, however, was interrupted when a series of groans and sobs drifting in the fading darkness reached the man’s ear, and he immediately followed them, dragging the noblewoman after him, until he stood before a miserable pit. Inside, clawing at the walls, were his fellow Jews. The man could only stare, horror-struck at the scene. “‘Save us, sir, please!’ “‘Have mercy on your fellow human beings!’ “‘What is this?’ he managed to yell over their wails. ‘What is your crime? What have you done?!’ “They described their crime of failing to pay the taxes imposed on them. The man begged the noblewoman to free the poor souls imprisoned on her estate, which she did. The man then hired a coach and paid the driver to bring the prisoners home. “Of course, any mitzvah is closely tailed by another one. As relief washed over the man in waves, a new uneasiness crept into his heart. Is this how he persisted in his good deeds? By leaving his faithful wife and marrying a gentile? The man then ordered himself a coach and fled the noblewoman and her promises without a glance over his shoulder. “A tumultuous storm erupted in Heaven at the man’s act of self-restraint. What reward should this man deserve? The Heavenly Court decided that man would be capable of annulling any decree from Above. This, however, prompted another outburst in Heaven, one which now concerned Heaven itself, as its decrees were no longer relevant while this man roamed the earth—naturally, he would always revoke everything. Thus, a caveat followed: the man was to be subjected to a life of alcoholism, so drunk he would be unable to follow the events surrounding him and reversing them. “Indeed,” finished Rabbi Baruch, “it’s quite risky having the man force Heaven’s Hand. Seeing as this plague wouldn’t have stopped until countless more have died, I had no choice but to employ his blessing.”

By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann * * 305.985.3461 Have A Question? Ask The Rabbi and he will Answer

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